Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Seagull Has Landed!

Done!  Finished! Complete! Knackered!!

Arrived home last night and am one tired bunny indeed.  I have no particular axe to grind regarding safety and am totally behind the completely necessary grounding of Super Puma Helicopters, so I'd just like to outline the likely future journeys that await all offshore personnel should boat transfers become the norm. 

Firstly though I feel it necessary to thank the crew of the boat we travelled on.  The Maersk Lifter is actually used in the main for 'Anchor-Handling' (no, me neither)...but on this occasion they were so moved by the plight of the average idiot lumbering around the platform that they kindly offered to take some of us in to the beach.  
So kudos in the extreme to you guys and thanks beyond description!!

Now, we got word of the offer of a lift around 10 in the morning on Tuesday.  We had the usual mis-information and rumour mixed with a healthy dose of plain downright lies but the overall impression was that it would actually go ahead at some point.  I believe the common offshore expression is
'We'll know more after the meeting'
I cannot tell you how often I've had to listen to that.  Indeed, there are some people I've seen offshore who must spend their entire time on the rig in meetings.  This can't be true, they must spend SOME time writing and receiving e-mails.

The time dragged on...and on...and further on but then we got the call...we had to go to the Heli-lounge to get our video brief on the Frog transfer.  We got to see the thing in action (albeit on video) and learned precisely nothing new, the whole thing could've been boiled down to 'hold on and keep your hands and feet inside the thing'!  This was around lunchtime and we were promised that an announcement would be made some time soon (soon is of course a rather 'elastic' term in the offshore environment).  All we knew at this point was that the boat was in the field (another very loose term) and would be servicing another platform first before it gets to us.

Several episodes of 'Deadliest Catch' later we were getting worried but then the Tannoy blurted into life.  We were told that half past seven was the time we had been preparing for all day.
This is where the reality of boat transferring kicks in, the boat had been busy getting guys off two other installations and had thus far got 30 odd men onboard.  This had taken some 6 hours!

We had 14 men to transfer and all of us had trudged up to the Heli-lounge with our bags and survival suits, we naturally felt that this would all be complete in minutes (oh how wrong we were!).  The Frog had been used on the previous rigs and so had obviously been checked over each time.  This did not preclude our rig checking it before use, this took approximately half an hour.  The first three got the nod to suit up and did so dutifully.  Some 30 minutes or so later they were called out to get transferred.

I was in the third block of three and was taken out about 45 minutes after the first three had left.  The transfer itself seemed to go quickly and all in all was so uneventful that it felt like a bit of a letdown.  The overriding impression I got was exactly how high up the rig I'd just been on was!
The final two lots got onboard roughly an hour later (being split into two lots of two so that no-one had to ride the Frog on their own) and the container with our baggage was loaded some half hour later.
Shown here is the area where the Frog was landed.

We got a rather rudimentary induction as to the facilities on the boat, after all we were only going to be there for 12 hours or so.  This was done by possibly the most Danish looking man I've ever seen.  I say Danish, he could have been Norwegian, Swedish or Finnish, what I mean to say is he looked Scandinavian!  One inquisitive soul offered the question, 'Do you have Wifi here?' to which we got the reply, 'We do but not for you guys!'  I suppose the offer of a lift home seemed enough to these guys.  He also briefed us on the likely itinerary of our trip.  A 12 hour sail followed by anything up to a 5 hour wait to get the right tide for offloading their precious cargo (us).

I got a decent room (my 5th of the trip blog fans!) with some lovely clean bedding and a friendly room mate who rather disconcertingly offered me a pair of brand new ear plugs.  I neatly declined as I tend to fall asleep first when sharing a room (people who snore always do fall asleep first).  I made my way down to the TV lounge and watched Liverpool's latest attempt to make lower league clubs look good.  And that took me up to half ten, which is plenty past my usual offshore bedtime...and so to bed (diary fans).

All this took place during one of the most becalmed periods I've ever seen in the North Sea and this continued for the entirety of the trip back to harbour. So much so that I slept in till half past seven.
Breakfast was 'interesting' with a solitary L-shaped island unit with no obvious signs of cutlery.  A variety of items that definitely 'looked' correct were in place but nothing actually tasted the way it should have done.  I have friends who would have fainted after their first mouthful of beans 'That's not Heinz!' may have escaped their lips as they slowly sank to the floor.
Nothing tasted right, the bacon smelt beautiful, looked rather odd and tasted weird.  Not 'off' as such, just odd.  No, only the egg truly satisfied and even that was a little too different to go unnoticed.
The whole thing seemed like eating a first cooked breakfast after undergoing major tongue surgery - if such a thing even exists.
After brekkie and a couple of coffees I ventured out on deck and caught a first sight of land.  We seemed like we had made excellent progress.  Then we had to wait for the pilot to take us into harbour.
Around 10am the boat with the pilot arrived and after a rather hazardous looking leap from boat to boat he went to the bridge to help land the vessel.  At this point word had spread throughout the boat and the decks were becoming ever more crowded.  Fortunately the boat had plenty of outside space and there was always a vantage point.  This is when we got the call...'Dolphins off the Port side!!'
I assure you now that those small spots in the wake of that boat are Dolphins.  These were just very shy Dolphins who seemed to know when I was pointing my camera (phone) at them.  Mere seconds after I'd taken this picture they were jumping out of the water and virtually laughing and pointing at me (a special feat when you've only got flippers to point with).
But still, it passed a few minutes!
I noticed some boats who were waiting alongside us as the pilot started us into harbour and felt as though we'd jumped the queue somewhat.  I even felt guilty (very briefly).
At this point in the journey the boat has to slow to a virtual crawl and the last few hundred yards took over an hour to traverse.


We got into harbour and pulled up at around eleven o'clock.  This is when the real fun started.  I did not know that before we would be allowed off the boat, the crew would be putting on a little show for us.  It seemed to be a tribute to Laurel & Hardy. You know the one where they couldn't tie a piece of netting under a gangway? No, me neither.  Maybe they were put off by having an audience...
Performance anxiety is apparently a big thing in Denmark...
We had all taken the opportunity to get all our bags and suits from our rooms and so were getting more than a little impatient with this little show.  I'd been stood waiting for the word to get off the boat and watching these guys operate all I could think of was the Chucklevision theme tune...Especially worrying as we'd been staring at our 'Executive Taxi' for nearly half an hour...
The driver was very understanding and was happy to let guys off at the railway station instead of insisting we all went with him back to Scotia with our suits.  I took the opportunity to get off at the airport terminal as I had to drop off paperwork at the office.

The journey had lasted until after midday on Wednesday, a total travel time of around 16 hours for us, on top of which you could add about 5 or 6 hours for those who got on from the earlier installations.  This is a little extreme and will probably not be the way of the future for all offshore travel.

I eventually arrived home at around 7pm and almost collapsed in a heap...my wife predicted that I would end up falling asleep downstairs watching the telly to which I snorted with derision (I'd show her, I thought)...As I woke up at 5am sat on the sofa I felt more than a little annoyed but I couldn't just go upstairs and get into bed, after all, I had half a can of beer still to drink...

Neil Hannon Rocks!!